Serving an interesting but decadent assortment of coffees, hot cakes, desserts, Japanese tapas, sandwiches, pasta, and more, Hi-Collar functions as many things. In the morning the atmosphere is subdued and relaxed like a coffee shop, as customers come to enjoy “kissaten” – a term to describe Japanese-style coffee shops. The lady we spoke to at Hi-Collar told us their coffee selection is extensive and that there are a variety of beans to choose from. Not only is there the opportunity to select the bean varietal, but one can also choose how the coffee is made as well: pour over, aeropress, or siphon—each method drawing out a distinct flavor. For the non-coffee drinker, there are teas and even a fruit milkshake. As the afternoon wears on and evening approaches, Hi-Collar becomes a bar complete with wine, sake, and beer. Inquiring about the name, we found that Hi-Collar is in fact a term that came to be during the Japanese Jazz Age, when Western culture infiltrated Japan and many men were seen wearing Western style high collars. The only seating available is at the long bar, and the beautiful flowers and lamps that hang from the ceiling add to the allure of this multifaceted nook on 10th.
After a few hours of walking, we just needed a place to sit, relax and refuel. Rai Rai Ken could not have been a better choice for us. Our light meal included a bowl of edamame, kimchee (pickled cabbage), and menma (marinated bamboo shoots tossed with scallions and seaweed). The steaming tureens - I say tureens because these bowls were huge - of ramen noodles and miso soup looked absolutely marvelous. We had to send some of our team back to sample them a few days later, and they reported, as we suspected, that both the ramen and rice dishes that they ordered were excellent.
Beneath the Spanish Benevolent Society lies La Nacional, one of Manhattan’s most authentic Spanish restaurants and the most easily accessible part of the society. Just by walking down the steps into the dimly lit basement lounge, we felt the bustle of 14th street quickly recede and we were transported across the ocean. La Nacional has the same relaxed, no frills atmosphere as most tapas bars in Spain. We gazed at the old photographs from the society’s earlier years on the walls and then had the option of sipping a drink at the bar, sampling some classic simple Spanish tapas such as tortilla de patatas, croquetas or chorizo, or dining on a full meal of paella. Perhaps the most authentic option, though, was to simply have a seat by the television to watch the fútbol game - it is always on. For visitors from Spain who want a taste of home, those of us pining for the Spanish travels of our past, or New Yorkers simply curious about a new culture, La Nacional is the place to go.
Hidden downstairs, this dark sake and sushi bar is an interesting find. One of our favorite bartenders in the East Village highly recommended this place to us, saying it is one of his choice spots in the city. When we stopped by on a Wednesday evening, the staff was absolutely lovely but the place was packed, so we spent a few minutes looking around and then left, filing it away for another evening. The younger crowd seemed to be settling in for the night, perfectly content with the limited space to move about, more focused on the prime selection of rice wine and the welcoming atmosphere.